Las Vegas Sun

September 1, 2014

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Joe Downtown: Taxicab Authority ready to investigate ride-snub complaints

Stories of cab drivers refusing potential customers who need relatively short rides aren’t limited to downtown Las Vegas.

Since the Sun’s story Thursday of downtown business owner Michael Cornthwaite being denied a cab ride because he didn’t look right, and Zappos employee Kristin Colbert’s story about being refused several times because the ride would have been too short, numerous people have written, called and approached the Sun.

From Summerlin to downtown Las Vegas, many people have had the same experience: If the cab driver doesn’t think he or she will make enough money by providing a short ride, they say so and keep their doors locked.

Talking to people downtown inside Cornthwaite’s The Beat coffeehouse, several people said they were refused not once but many times.

Also common, however, is that almost none of them filed a complaint with the Nevada Taxicab Authority. As a result, the authority said it had few complaints generated from the downtown area.

It is pretty easy to file a complaint, however, said Teri Williams, authority spokeswoman. People can call dispatch at (702) 668-4005; send an email to or go to the authority’s website and file a complaint affidavit.

The authority recommends providing as much of the following information as possible: incident date and time, your name, cab driver’s name, where the incident happened, cab company name, a description of the cab, cab number, what happened and contact info for witnesses. The driver’s Taxicab Authority Permit number is also recommended.

Once a complaint is filed, Williams said, an investigator is assigned. He or she will try to contact the complainant, driver and cab company. The company, Williams added, will do its own independent investigation and impose disciplinary action where needed.

If the authority finds the driver violated state codes, it may issue a fine or suspend the driver’s permit.

Terry Murphy, president of the Downtown Las Vegas Alliance, an organization of business leaders, wonders if the cab companies know the extent to which downtown is changing.

“I’m going to sit down with the industry leaders because they need to know it’s happening and it’s happening quickly,” she said. “They need to know the type of people coming downtown – they don’t want to drink and drive. (Drivers) can make a lot more money downtown.”

Cornthwaite’s experience Wednesday night indicates, perhaps, that much more education needs to happen.

Cornthwaite, who owns the Downtown Cocktail Room, Emergency Arts, The Beat coffeehouse and is part-owner of Oscar’s steakhouse in the Plaza, got into a cab at 9:30 p.m. on Fourth Street to get a ride to his home in the Scotch 80s, about 2 miles away.

He has lived in Las Vegas 18 years and looks like anyone else here but for the fact that he keeps his hair shoulder length and often pulls it into a ponytail.

Not that looks should make any kind of difference to someone seeking a cab ride, but in this case they made a big difference.

Cornthwaite said he got into the backseat, and the cab driver just sat for a minute saying nothing.

Finally the driver spoke: “People that look like you, they don’t pay me!”

Cornthwaite had taken the ride before. He told the driver it would be $12 and he would give an $8 tip.

“Please, please just get out of my cab!” the driver said. “I’m going on break; I’m going home!”

Cornthwaite stayed put and called the Taxicab Authority to make a formal complaint. Hearing this, the cabbie got back in the driver's seat, put the vehicle into gear, then demanded a “deposit,” which is his right.

A few minutes later, they arrived at his home. By this time, the cabbie had been apologizing profusely. Cornthwaite even tipped him.

Zappos employee Kristin Colbert said she has been refused rides from cabbies on four or five occasions, the last time being three months ago. She said drivers tell her the ride isn’t worth it to them because she doesn’t live very far away--she lives 2.8 miles away so the fare is $13 and she usually leaves a $7 tip.

State law lists reasons why a cab drivers may deny a potential passenger. The driver: has to fear for his or her safety; has already been “engaged” by another rider; or has to show it would be against the law to carry the passenger. The rider also has to be requesting a ride within the driver’s “allocated” area.

Nevada administrative code adds to the list of reasons for denial. Those reasons include:

• The passenger doesn’t specifically identify a destination.

• The passenger is hostile or uses offensive language.

• The driver believes the passenger is armed.

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